From its design to all the finishing touches, it took Catherine Manett an entire month to build “The Nightmare Before Christmas” in gingerbread.
Manett’s gingerbread creation was part of the 10th annual Long Island Gingerbread House Contest in Farmingdale that took place on Dec. 9, with the theme “Favorite Holiday Fairy Tales.”
This was Manett’s second stab at the competition, for which she took second place last year.
“I was so excited about it and now it’s kind of become a regular hobby for me,” says Manett, 30, a social worker and writer who lives in Mastic. “Every year I plan on doing it.”
Manett learned about the gingerbread competition from Helene Purdoski Lackner, her co-worker at Adult Protective Services, who came in first this year for the adult amateur division.
Purdoski Lackner, who has also competed in gingerbread competitions in Sayville and Port Jefferson, created her personal take on “The Gingerbread Man” where he doesn’t get eaten by the fox.
“I’m very thrilled. I’m absolutely blown away,” says Purdoski Lackner, 64, of Patchogue.
The annual gingerbread contest is a collaboration between the Farmingdale Chamber of Commerce and The Chocolate Duck, notes Christina Bisbee, co-owner of the Farmingdale shop specializing in chocolate and cake and baking equipment.
This year, five adults and four kids competed in three divisions -- professional, amateur and youth -- to make completely edible chocolate or gingerbread houses that were judged on originality, overall appearance, choice and use of materials and difficulty of design.
Many non-professional bakers are too intimidated to enter, Bisbee contends.
“I’ve just seen some really great ones over the years,” Bisbee says. “You can tell, maybe it doesn’t look professional, but it definitely looks like a lot of love was put into it.”
Taking first place in the professional division for the 9th time, Jean Schapowal created a gingerbread depiction of “The Nutcracker.”
“I am a cake artist, but I also have a background in graphic design and illustration, so it was a new medium for me to try gingerbread,” says Schapowal, 58, of Hicksville, whose work over the years has evolved from a simple square house to a more intricate gingerbread sculpture.
For last year’s holiday memories theme, Schapowal made a Christmas tree Advent calendar with round Christmas balls and a gift box – all made from gingerbread. For the Long Island landmark theme, she recreated the All American Burger and when the theme was frontline workers, created North Shore Hospital with ambulances and hospital employees out front.
Fun for Families
A retired professor at Nassau Community College, where he chaired the hospitality department, Fred Terry recalls making gingerbread houses for some culinary classes that were later decorated by members of the community. When he retired 25 years ago, Terry created Gingerbread University, a gingerbread decorating center which makes thousands of gingerbread houses.
“I am from the North Fork of Long Island and decided I would set up a decorating center here,” says Terry.
Over the years, Gingerbread University has added more and more gingerbread designs to the mix, including Ginger Jaws (a shark) and Ginger Jack (a pumpkin). The most popular kit is the $26.50 jumbo kit: a foot-long cookie in the shape of a tree, train, bear, snow person, ginger person or menorah.
This year, Gingerbread University will run its Gingerbread Family Adventure in December at Hallockville Farm in Riverhead, where most of the proceeds will be donated to the Smile Train, a New York-based organization that provides cleft palate surgeries for children.
“I got this thing about gingerbread making people smile, so I’ve decided I’m going to do surgeries so kids who can’t smile, can smile,” Terry says.
At the Gingerbread Family Adventure, people can decorate premade gingerbread houses with candy kits with United States-branded candies. Some gingerbread houses will replicate the Hallockville barn and a horse and carriage.
Terry and staff will be on hand to help out, but it’s really a DIY activity.
“I wanted to create an activity where families come and sit across from each other,” says Terry. “It’s an enormous amount of grandma and me and grandpa and me. And they actually talk to each other and decorate houses.”
Premade or DIY
At each of their four locations, Dortoni bakeries make gingerbread houses in three sizes: small, medium and large: 10, 14 and 24 inches.
“We do the kits as well,” says owner Donnie Messina. “Sometimes people want to assemble them at home.”
Though the pre-made gingerbread is one design, they can be customized for an additional fee.
“We can put people’s names on it,” Messina says. “We can customize the design.”
Available in the same size as the finished houses, the gingerbread kits are assembled but not decorated.
The kits, which Messina says are very popular, include all the icing pressed in tubes and colorful candy in separate bags for the kids to decorate themselves.
“Somebody just bought 40 of them to give them out as gifts for clients and family,” says Messina, adding that though the kits are gaining in popularity, Dortoni sells about twice as many finished gingerbread houses.
A seasonal item, gingerbread is only available at Dortoni until the end of the year.
Gingerbread University’s Gingerbread Family Adventure
WHEN | WHERE 90-minute sessions from 10:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., Friday to Sunday through Dec. 23; The Big Barn at Hallockville Museum Farm, 6038 Sound Ave., Riverhead
COST Gingerbread kits start at $16.95
MORE INFO Everyone gets a diploma in “gingerbreadology”
Where to get DIY gingerbread houses
WHEN | WHERE Dortoni Bakery Co.; throughout December
3264 Hempstead Tpike, Levittown; 516-796-3033
6247 Northern Blvd., East Norwich; 516-624-8900
11 Vanderbilt Motor Pkwy., Commack; 631-623-6999
125 W. Broadway, Port Jefferson; 631-473-7900
COST Kits or pre-made houses are $39, $59.99, and $299
MORE INFO dortonibakery.com